Jury Trial Sought for Priest

By George B. Griffin
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
January 14, 1993

WORCESTER - A lawyer for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester said yesterday he would demand a jury trial in his defense of a retired priest accused of sexually molesting an altar boy at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Athol.

Lawyer James G. Reardon said the Rev. Justin Steponaitis has denied the allegations and the diocese has received no information to support them.

Steponaitis declined comment Monday, but yesterday's Boston Globe reported that he denied the allegation before refusing to discuss the matter further. There was no answer last night at Steponaitis' residence in Putnam, Conn.

Reardon said he had instructed Steponaitis not to talk about the case with reporters because of the "lurid manner in which the Telegram & Gazette is covering this."

At issue is a civil lawsuit filed in Worcester Superior Court Monday on behalf of Michael A. Lavigne of Athol, who alleged he was sexually assaulted while serving as an altar boy. The lawsuit said the assaults occurred between 1971 and 1976.


Lavigne now is 32. Steponaitis retired from active duty in 1987 after serving as a priest in the diocese for 50 years.

"As the attorney for diocese, we have received no evidence for any of those allegations, nor has the diocese received anything to support those allegations," Reardon said. "The attorney for Lavigne has never had any documents presented to us that would give us reason to talk about a settlement of the matter, other than one medical bill which was not backed up by a doctor's report.

"I resent the fact that increasingly attorneys have decided to try these cases in the paper. And I certainly resent the fact that lurid coverage is not doing anything to alleviate any of these strong allegations."

Last week, current and former parishioners of St. Rose of Lima Church in Northboro alleged that a former visiting priest, the Rev. Victor A. Frobas, had raped at least one young boy and sexually assaulted others in 1978. District Attorney John J. Conte is investigating the allegations made by Robert A. Malo of Grafton, who is one of Frobas' accusers.

Malo, now 27, told the Telegram & Gazette that he had been assaulted and raped by Frobas in the rectory of the church during a weekend 13 years ago. Malo and three other alleged victims have described sexual actions of varying degrees on Frobas' part, and three parents have told the Telegram & Gazette they believe their children were assaulted by the priest.

In December, a lawyer in New Mexico named the Worcester Diocese in a lawsuit on behalf of two people who alleged they were molested by one of the diocese's priests while the priest was under treatment in Albuquerque for pedophilia. Lawyer Bruce E. Pasternack of Albuquerque said the civil suit charges negligence and conspiracy by the diocese and others for allowing the Rev. David A. Holley to be assigned to parishes in New Mexico.

Since then, former Boylston resident William L. Schultz, now of Natick, and Paul T. Roughan of Worcester have said they and other teen-age boys had rebuffed Holley many times when he attempted to touch them sexually.

In September of last year, the Rev. Ronald D. Provost, former pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Barre, was indicted on a charge of soliciting a child to pose for nude photographs. His trial is scheduled for Jan. 28 in Worcester Superior Court.

In September and again in October of last year, a Worcester County grand jury indicted the Rev. Joseph A. Fredette on numerous charges alleging he sexually assaulted youths who were placed in his care in the early 1970s. Fredette, a former member of the Assumptionist order, was the live-in director of Come Alive Inc., a halfway house for delinquent boys, in the early 1970s.

Fredette is believed to be living in Canada. Gov. William F. Weld signed extradition papers last month seeking Fredette's return to the United States to stand trial.


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